Fentanyl

What is fentanyl? Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but up to 100 times more potent. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment and due to its powerful opioid properties, it is highly addictive and often abused. In fact, in 2020, overdoses involving this drug made up 68% of all prescription opioid deaths. Continue reading below to learn all you need to know about the dangers of fentanyl and fentanyl addiction treatment.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used in surgeries as an anesthetic and prescribed for pain relief afterwards. It is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin, which means it has a higher potential for abuse. Not only is this opioid highly addictive, but also highly dangerous because the difference between a therapeutic and deadly dose is very small. Acryl fentanyl, an analog of fentanyl, is a designer drug and unlike its counterpart, its creation was not intended for medical use but rather recreational use.

What Are Common Street Names For Fentanyl?

Popular names include:

  • China Girl
  • China Town
  • Dance Fever
  • Goodfellas
  • King Ivory
  • Murder 8
  • Tango & Cash
  • Apace
  • China White
  • Great Bear
  • He-Man
  • Poison

What Does Fentanyl Look Like?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is available as an oral lozenge (often referred to as a fentanyl lollipop), a tablet, a nasal spray, an injection, and a transdermal patch.

Fentanyl sold on the street is primarily sold in a white powder form. The dangers of fentanyl are compounded when it is mixed with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine in order to obtain the “ultimate high.”

How Is Fentanyl Used?

Fentanyl can be taken orally, injected, smoked, and snorted. When prescribed by a doctor, it is usually given as a shot or as lozenges or lollipops that can be sucked on. Additionally, fentanyl provided in a medical setting can be given via a transdermal patch placed on the skin.

It is also sold and used illegally, usually in the form of powder, eye drops, nasal sprays, or pills that are made to look like other prescription opioids. Illegal fentanyl is sometimes mixed with other drugs as well, such as cocaine, heroin, MDMA, and methamphetamine.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Fentanyl?

Some of the short-term effects of fentanyl include:

  • Euphoria
  • Pain relief
  • Relaxation
  • Sedation
  • Extreme happiness

It also has multiple undesirable short-term effects, such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vertigo
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Respiratory depression

Why Is Fentanyl Harmful?

Fentanyl is one of the most powerful and high-risk opioids on the market. Though it is often used in medical settings to treat patients during and after surgery, it is frequently misused. In 2020, overdoses involving this drug made up 68% of all prescription opioid deaths, likely because it is difficult to determine what dosage will cause a fatal impact. Individuals often unknowingly take fentanyl with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine, increasing their risk of overdose. In fact, drug dealers may lace drugs with fentanyl because it is powerful and inexpensive to produce.

Fentanyl’s ability to absorb into the skin poses additional danger when the drug becomes airborne. Accidentally inhaling or touching the substance can result in symptoms carrying the hallmarks of opioid exposure.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl Abuse?

Repeated fentanyl misuse can lead to drug addiction and health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood instability
  • Brain damage
  • Respiratory depression
  • Cardiac disorders
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual problems
  • Weakened immune system

What are the Signs of Fentanyl Addiction?

Individuals are exposed to the dangers of fentanyl at the very first use.  Consequently, habitual abuse dramatically impacts the brain and can cause addiction. Individuals addicted to this drug can begin to have severe withdrawal symptoms even just a few hours after the drug is taken. Addiction can be identified by observing the following signs:

Psychological Symptoms

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble concentrating

Physical Signs

  • Tiny pupils
  • Weight loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Cold flashes and goose bumps
  • Problems sleeping
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Gastrointestinal distress

What Does a Fentanyl Overdose Look Like?

When an individual takes a toxic amount of fentanyl or combines it with other drugs or alcohol, they can experience an overdose. Because drugs affect everyone differently, it is impossible to determine what dosage or combination has this effect. Signs of an overdose include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Severe confusion
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Respiratory arrest

Due to the increasing number of fentanyl-related overdoses, many individuals are beginning to carry naloxone (sold under the name Narcan). Narcan is a medicine designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Knowing how to use Narcan properly could save a life. Unfortunately, due to the potency of fentanyl, naloxone is not always successful at reviving those who have overdosed on the drug.

Given that opioid overdoses are particularly dangerous, individuals who overdose on opioids require immediate medical attention, even if they have been revived with naloxone.

How to Use Narcan

How is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?

Detox

Detox is a critical first step in recovering from addiction because it allows the body to eliminate any toxic substances. Due to the extreme cravings that may occur, it is vital that individuals struggling with fentanyl addiction detox under the supervision of a health professional.  Withdrawal symptoms are often felt just hours after quitting and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach cramps
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • High blood pressure

Addiction Treatment

While detox rids the body of hazardous chemicals, it does not completely treat the other aspects of addiction. Because of this, it is important that once the body has been stabilized, individuals follow a comprehensive treatment plan, including substance abuse counseling and drug education. These clinical practices not only address the psychological and behavioral impact of addiction, but also provide individuals with the knowledge to make smart, healthy choices in recovery. Treatment programs available for fentanyl addiction include inpatient/residential and outpatient. In some cases, doctors may supplement traditional therapies with Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and prescribe addiction fighting medication to help the individual help manage withdrawal symptoms that arise.

Like all opioids, fentanyl is extremely addictive, making abstaining from use particularly challenging. Holistic therapies have proven effective at reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms as well as providing anxiety and stress relief. There are a variety of holistic therapies that target the needs of those recovering from fentanyl addiction. For example, individuals who used the drug to alleviate pain can experience similar relief through acupuncture. And those who relied on the opioid for its euphoric effects can find a natural, intense rush through adventure therapy. Finally, users who sought an outlet to deal with emotional pain may value meditation, which encourages connection to a higher power and a sense of purpose, putting concerns into perspective.

To learn about other therapeutic activities that enrich the mind, body, and spirit, consult our Wellness page.

If you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl addiction, know that you are not alone. Our team of medical, clinical, and wellness experts are here to help you break free from addiction and achieve the happy, healthy life you deserve.